Bradley Wester

Introduction

I may work on a body of work for up to ten years, based on a combination of conceptual, theoretical, political, and formal-material interests. It is by privileging the last that I am, first and foremost, a maker. The artworks are the physical manifestation of an immersive studio practice of discovery, a practice that directs me more than I direct it, a gleaning of the way materials act when acted upon. This, in turn, informs the more intellectual content—my writings, my understanding and use of the writings of others. DISCOurse is emphatic that if art is “knowledge production”, then it is by way of NOT knowing: Art as proto-knowledge. It also refuses a critique of the present that takes the form of complaint or didactic condescension.

DISCOurse, 2013—present

DISCOurse imagines, in the here and now, a utopian futurity that is diverse, optimistic, joyous and fun—it puts the disco back into critical discourse.

My artwork has evolved into a hybrid practice that combines painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, and photographic digital imaging into larger works/installations.

DISCOurse #3: Velvet Rope” is the third iteration in a body of work that I have been investigating since 2013. I use the site of early disco, and see it as a rehearsal for diversity. The disco ball itself, ‘a queer mirror’, a pixelated globe, is used to consider the ‘spaces between’ our refracted or failed image—androgynous spaces, where potentiality lies.

In a regular, flat mirror, queerness can hide. It is in this ‘straight’ mirror, even with the advantage of a rear view, queer’s reflection may not necessarily appear queer. Unlike the way skin color, for example, is always revealed. What the straight mirror makes visible then is merely the surface of things in the here and now. It reflects-confirms what we already know, or think we know in the present.

The spinning mirror disco ball, however, creates a fractured, multiplicity of moving reflections in the round that are then scattered onto limitless chance surfaces, dizzying and exotic. It reflects what it sees behind, in front, up, down, all around, even what we can’t see, breaking that into fragments with borders that are re-contoured by the surface-shape it’s reflected upon. Here, even a straight reflection is made queer with future potential.

This body of work uses custom made pegboard, either white or silver Mylar on hardboard, or black enamel coated metal pegboard as the conductive substrate for other materials and objects such as paint, smaller paintings, disco balls, digital prints, found photos, holographic tape, dichromatic Plexiglas, tube lights, pipe cleaners, leather and chain, to be attached and arranged. The evenly perforated panels are like large computer motherboards, each with a unique ‘form factor’ by which the connected components or ‘circuits’ communicate. Often mirrored or shiny, the mother-pegboard makes all external reflections components too. With the digital screen, or black mirror, there is the tri-spatial reality of being in front of, within, and wherever it takes us via searching, mapping, Skyping, robotics, etc. Mimicking the form factor of computer circuitry, my pieces become literal screens, that both obfuscate and illuminate what stands between the here and there, the now and then, present and future.

These reflected images appear to be rasterized into a bitmap of 1’s and 0’s when the formal grid of pegboard holes acts as a dot matrix inside the image. So one’s reflection becomes part of the piece, made further corrupt as it is interpolated into the other layers of the work. One such layer on the surface of these panels can sometimes be images of digital glitches—failed images of pure pixilation, referring to both the pegboard and the mirrored disco ball as analog pixelating or image-failing device.

The shiny surfaced works can also be seen to perform like the mirror in a single-lens reflex camera, or a micro view of a silver gelatin print. In this way, I want to expand photography and re-imagine painting in an age of information and digital reproduction. Painting is liberated here not just from the static pictorial field of the canvas container, but also from ever having to complete itself. The work contains, and therefore is contingent on, whatever is in front of it—the viewer, other works nearby, the room itself. The total picture can only be formalized in live time, moving through space, only to change again, forever precarious.

Other significant associations embedded in my use of generic commercial pegboard are as both a holder and organizer of tools used in manual labor, and as a display-holder of commodities in large store aisle constructions. Both uses are conflated in the DISCOurse art works, becoming simultaneously their own shiny commodity and that which displays it. Riddled with holes, they might also suggest the chink in neo-liberal’s armor.

Celebrating the imperfect, the perforated, and the broken shine, I reveal the interstices of societies’ reflection, the spaces in-between, androgynous spaces, where potentiality lies. The site of DISCOurse, like cross-border economies, is where material goods, ideas, and definitions are hybridized and repurposed, where culture and the imagination anticipate a future diverse.

*DISCOurse attempts to both celebrate and critique our contemporary shine fetish. For more on my ideas about the ‘politics of shine’ go to “Artist to Artist #3 (Shine and its DISCOntents)”in the Writing section of this website. I owe a debt to the book, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, by José Esteban Muñoz, for the ideas confirmed and inspired there. And to my fellows at the inaugural ‘Summer Forum for Inquiry and Exchange’ a nomadic text and discussion-based residency held in New Harmony, Ind. in the summer of 2012. 

**This new body of work circles back to some of the ideas in my early work as a performance artist in New York during the East Village scene of the 1980’s. The term ‘Genderfuck,’ coined in the 70’s and coming out of the identity politics movement, loosely describes the objective of those performances, to ‘fuck with’ notions of gender, and to explore the androgynous, in-between spaces of possibility. Two of the most resolved of those performances were “Re:Gender (Scape),” a solo performance with film, sound, and movement at The Kitchen Center, and “Arousing Reconstructions,” a collaborative performance/dance piece with Diane Torr at St. Marks Danspace.

***The reflective and/or silver surface has appeared in my work for over 25 years. It can be seen increasingly in all three sections of my recent ten-year trilogy described in an earlier statement below. But the mirror as an image/idea made its debut in performance work as early as undergraduate school. In a performance called “Water Mirror” the stage was divided in half by a simple tapeline. The action (which included film projections) began on one extreme side of the stage and continued until it crossed the centerline where the same action repeated but in an exact mirror of itself. Another simple piece was two three-minute side-by-side film projections shot in 16mm, using stationary cameras outside of and focused on the entrance façade of the main New York Public Library and the main public library of the small town of my undergrad school. Two filmmakers shot the films at the exact time on the exact day.

Postscript:
My hybrid-practice also participates in the expansion of painting’s boundaries by traversing them in three specific content areas: Transparent-Mystery: Transforming unlikely everyday materials into art with limited alteration so as to remain recognizable as they inexplicably begin to appear mysterious and opaque; Fragment-Whole: Creating large wall, floor, and/or table ‘painting’ installations that first appear as a single whole, but which then appear to break down into relational object-clusters, which break down further still into distinguishable and separate parts, only to reverse again into the one larger visual whole; Time-Continuum: Making diverse cultural references that link the historical with contemporary; Altering older work and combining it with new. And, as in an early solo in New York, visually and conceptually linking my current exhibition with one from my past, as well as linking it with the gallery’s previous and future exhibits.

Previous Work, 2003—13

For over a decade, I have worked on a long-term project entitled, “Ephemera & Culture: Italy, Turkey, and Japan—a Trilogy,” three bodies of artwork initiated in, and made from the ephemera of, three distinct cultures outside the U.S. Part 1, “Italy,” began at the American Academy in Rome where I was a Visiting Artist in 2003-4. Part 2 “Japan” is a result of a Fulbright Specialist Grant where I spent the summer of 2008 as a Visiting Artist at Kyoto University of Art & Design. The most recent and final part of the trilogy, “Turkey” was the result of my travels to Turkey and Andalusia. Three symmetrical and distinct cultures are chosen: If Rome Italy can be seen as the seat of western art, then Kyoto Japan can be viewed with equal historical significance to the east. Finally, Istanbul, the gateway between East and West, and the collision between western and eastern values—Byzantine, Muslim, and secular culture—represents the centerpiece of the trilogy. I felt it imperative to include Turkey (the Islamic section) to begin to reconcile being an American artist whose country’s values and foreign policy elicit such extremes of hope and violence in Muslim society.

My material and contextual manipulations of commonplace materials and various kinds of ephemera make multiple iconographic references, from the modernist grid to computer circuitry, from the Italian Baroque to Japanese art and Anime, etc. When my early drawing/collages using paper labels and stickers from stationery stores began to impersonate the look and geometry of computer circuit boards in 2000-1 (see ‘Other Work’), I was inspired to enlist real computer circuitry to ‘re-draw’ the label designs as digital files in a graphics software. The result closed the circle: Paper labels—a kind of ‘dumb’ information architecture, mimicking circuitry—a hi-tech information architecture, that in turn mimics the paper labels. I want to have it both ways: exploit the glamour and scope of technology while retaining the political agency of art made with my hands out of mundane materials. This position stands against, while it gains traction from, a pervasive culture of spectacular images controlled by a triumvirate of powerful industries in three distinct locations: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Madison Avenue.